OKC Mayor Takes Public Health Approach To Criminal Justice Reform

Thursday, July 26th 2018, 6:15 pm
By: News 9

Oklahoma City was recently named the incarceration capital of the world, after a new report ranked the US at the top of the list. Now Mayor David Holt hopes some deep pockets can help change that.

The mayor’s office is utilizing the Oklahoma City-County Health Department to take a community approach to criminal justice reform, connecting non-violent offenders to the actual services they need.

The city is competing in the national Bloomberg Mayors Challenge to tackle common societal issues. Holt says the health department could help turn around our biggest local problem.

“They understand and have the data necessary and can accumulate the individual data that can help us put these folks on a better path,” said the mayor.

Statistics show that 77% of inmates in the Oklahoma County jail may be better served elsewhere.

“They’re not a threat to their community,” said Health Department Spokesperson Jackie Shawnee, “but they just have very high needs and they wind up back in our criminal justice system because we just don’t have the capacities right now to case manage them to meet their needs.”

Holt added, “When you check in at the Oklahoma County jail, they probably just know your arrest record and don’t have any idea how many times you’ve engaged with mental health or substance abuse systems.”

The Mayors Challenge could help the city change that, however. If OKC wins, 15 case workers would be hired, each working with 70 inmates and their families, adding up to thousands of people getting help. Information would also be streamlined to allow detention officers to see beyond a person's criminal history.

It is an idea they hope can be replicated nationwide.

Shawnee said, “Bringing everybody to the table, we’re all working towards the same thing and we’re able to make a bigger impact in the lives of those citizens.”

The testing phase of the Mayors Challenge is nearing completion. The finalists for the $5 million grand prize will be announced in October.

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